Archive for the ‘Chinese Ants’ Category

Ants of Xishuangbanna

Last summer, I traveled to Japan to do a collections trip in beautiful Xishuangbanna, which quickly yielded a new species in one of the rarest genera in the world, Bannapone scrobiceps. Now, Cong Liu, the graduate student who was in the expedition and is now in Evan Economo’s lab at OIST, has a new website with a full catalog of the discoveries, here. As noted, the collections yielded 237 species in 58 genera – not too shabby for a two-week trip into a relatively limited area. Each species has an accompanying photo of a representative of each species, presumably taken by the auto montage machine at OIST. There are some real exciting finds, like new generic records for China (Echinopla cherapunjiensis and Gesomyrmex kalshoveni), some just awesome looking gals (MyrmoterasMystrium, and Polyrhachis bihamata and P. furcata), the aforementioned Bannapone scrobiceps, and an “unknown” species. The list, and associated images, will serve as a great resource for anyone doing research in South China or the surrounding countries, and will be interesting to everyone with an interest in the diversity of life.


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For today’s Monday Mandarin Meanings, I asked my school liaison (in China), Tan Lingzhao, to tell me an idiom with “蚂蚁” (ants) in it. She gave me:

Reguo shang de mayi

This is “rè guō shàng de mǎyǐ“, or “ants on a hot pan”. Quite reasonably, this phrase is used for somebody who is very anxious. I normally break down the meaning of the characters, often with lighthearted interpretations, but here they are mostly straightforward. “热锅” is “pan”, “上” is “on”, and “蚂蚁”, as already mentioned, is “ant” or “ants”. But 的 is really exciting! It’s a grammar particle.


Reguo shang de mayi art


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Since learning about the Fort Wayne ‘Mad Ants’ NBA D-League team last year, I occasionally check in on the team, and it seems to be doing well. Last season, Tony Mitchell was the D-League Rookie of the Year (Are we surprised he was a Mad Ant? No.), part of an effort that brought the Mad Ants to the playoffs for the first time. Well, he then decided to do something different. Which, according to this article in The Journal Gazette, turned out to be going to China for 2 1/2 months to play with the Jilin Northeast Tigers. He also has been drafted by the Detroit Pistons, and, according to Wikipedia, is playing with the Mad Ants “on assignment” from the team.

I find this particularly notable because Mitchell’s trajectory has been Detroit -> Ants -> China, which essentially mirrors my own. Perhaps there is some fundamental property of nature that follows: (Detroit metro area) + (Ants) = (China).

File:Large Detroit Landsat.jpg + Fort Wayne Mad Ants logo =  

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This is a previously scheduled post, as I am currently in transit to China for a collections trip, and I do not know what internet and/or WordPress access I will have. As part of the preparations for the trip, I translated several Mandarin taxonomic keys for species known from the region, using my knowledge of Chinese, my experience with ant taxonomy, and, of course, Google Translate. During this process, I’ve become acquainted with the Chinese names for various genera. So, for today’s Mandarin Monday Meanings, I will discuss xiǎojiāyǐ:


This is the word for the cosmopolitan genus Monomorium. Here’s a picture of the ants carrying grains of sand, taken, as usual, by Alex Wild:

Monomorium sp. workers carrying sand grains from an excavation deep in their nest.  Archbold Biological Station, Florida, USA

Obviously, these ants are quite small. They can also be house pests, most infamously Monomorium pharaonis, the pharaoh ant. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the Mandarin word for the genus is, literally, “little house ant” (xiǎo = small, jiā = house, = ant). The name makes the species sound rather endearing – who wouldn’t want a little house ant to visit their home every once in a while? One species’s name , “Monomorium minimum“, is also pretty fun to type, as it only requires a single use of the left hand!

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I have several times noted occurrences where Chinese history and culture intersect with ants (see here, here, here, here, here, here, or even here). However, finding myself in Japan, I realized that I know nothing about the place of ants in Japanese history and culture. Not surprisingly, it took me less than a minute to find something relevant: The Dream of Akinosuke.

This story follows the experiences of Akinosuke, a wealthy man who falls asleep under a tree in the presence of his friends, and has a remarkable dream. He finds himself the receiver of bountiful blessings, including being adopted by the King through marriage to a beautiful princess who bears him five boys and two girls, and becoming governor of a pleasant realm. However, misfortune befalls the man when his wife dies. After a period of mourning, he is called back by the king, only to awake just as he is departing.

After waking, Akinosuke discusses the dream with his friends, and learns that a butterfly floating near his head had been pulled into an ant’s nest, emerging only after he awoke. An insightful friend opines that “The ants might explain it. … Ants are queer beings – possibly goblins… Anyhow, there is a big ant’s nest under that cedar-tree.” After investigating, Akinosuke finds that the nest is laid out exactly like the kingdom in his dream, including the “King”. Furthermore, he finds, underneath a pebble, the body of a dead female ant.

All of this sounded very familiar to me, and for good reason – it is apparently based on the Tang Chinese story The Governor of Nanke, which I have discussed previously. Like in the Chinese story, Akinosuke has a dream, finds that his life of blessings ends in sorrow, and then finds an ant’s nest under a tree that represents the life in his dream. Furthermore, both stories mistakenly describe a “king” at the head of the ant colony, which is erroneous for reasons I discuss in the other post. However, the moral of the Japanese story is less clear, whereas The Governor of Nanke makes its message explicit in its closing poem:

The noblest emolument and position
Power to overthrow cities and lands –
The wise man regards these things
As nothing different from swarming ants.

All of this is, of course, further evidence that the ways of the ant have permeated all human societies.

Aikido Bruxelles / Kwaidan / akinosuke

(Depiction of The Dream of Akinosuke, from here)

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As even some of my most avid readers may not know, I am currently in Okinawa, Japan as a research intern at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology. I am in the Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit headed by Evan Economo, my mentor from the University of Michigan. The lab is also known as “Arilab” – “ari” is a transliteration of the Japanese word for “ant”. Be sure to check out Arilab’s brand-new website created by lab member Sandrine Burriel, here.

In about a week I will be heading to Xishuangbanna in Yunnan, China to do a two-week collections trip with Benoit Guénard and Cong Liu, where we hope to find many interesting species of ants. Previous records from Xishuangbanna include some particularly cool-looking species like Harpegnathos venatorPolyrhachis bihamata, and Mystrium camillae:


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Our family was a simple one. My father always told to my brothers and sisters, including myself, this very story about a bird proud of its wings who looks down on a small ant. However, the ant finally triumphed over the bird due to his determination and will. Although the bird has wings the ant has will power, confidence and hope. And with the blessing of Allah, the ant finally reached its goal. Therefore, my father always told us that a person should always have a strong will and confidence in oneself.

— Rebiya Kadeer, president of the World Uyghur Congress (source)

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